Yesterday or more precisely, last night, I attended another one of those English and Spanish language exchanges. Here in Madrid they are called; ‘Intercambios’.
Last night was OK, I seem to be settling into the routine and environment of the particular Intercambio I attend. I have made a few friends actually, but the reason I initially began attending Intercambios wasn’t really to make friends.
The idea behind these language exchanges are that people who wish to learn English or Spanish can meet at these organised events, and then together they can work to improve their language skills.
In Madrid Intercambios are popular. For me it has been a huge shock discovering just how popular. Many people here are eager to perfect their English – which they will tell you is bad, and yet it isn’t! They speak very good English, which again shocked me, as you rarely hear them doing so, even if you ask them.
People here actually learn English via work or from school, well, the younger generations learn in school. Courses and classes here can be expensive, so people flood to these Intercambios hoping to practice and speak English for free. So, I held out hope to also be able to chat away in my ‘Spanglish’, or gain the much needed confidence to actually speak Spanish as well as I do when no-one is listening to me!!
Having spent a significant time dedicated to attempting to learn Spanish, and also time slacking off from this task; I came to think, in my infinite wisdom, that Intercambio (language exchange) evenings would be the way to achieve language perfection.
Oh dear, how misled were my judgements on such things.
The main issue for me is that Intercambios are 99.9% of the time run from a bar/club, where loud music can hinder understanding, and also people tend to enjoy drinking alcohol, more than perhaps actually learning anything. I for one am guilty of this!
OK, alcohol plays a huge part in lowering inhibitions and boosting confidence, but also after a couple of drinks retaining any new information, in relation to learning, well, it isn’t so conducive.
Have I learnt anything so far from attending them?? Well a couple of words, but not substantial conversation or fantastical language confidence!
In fact even finding an Intercambio set up I was comfortable with at first, was trial and error.
My first experience with Intercambios was actually as I expected it would be, surprisingly. Bar, alcohol,
men and women = well, a hunting ground for sex. Not really my idea of learning a language!
This first Intercambio, 3 friends and myself attended together. As soon as us women entered the bar (which was full of men), immediately I detected their eyes fix upon us, and I just knew why! Their necks were all strained like Meerkats on the lookout!! They weren’t interested in run of the mill conversation, let me just say that!
Anyway, intimidating, yes, very; we were not there to meet men for sex.
So, my judgement of Intercambios had been tainted; I felt it was really a euphemism for a ‘pick up’ opportunity, rather than a legitimate language exchange or learning experience.
Anyway, not being one to give up, I decided to persevere and give the Intercambios another shot.
The second Intercambio I attended, although the setting remained within a bar, I didn’t get a ‘pick up’ joint vibe. So, it seemed as though this one might just provide me an opportunity to learn, and practice Spanish.
This was the theory, but it has never quite transpired to practice.
Reason being is when a friend and I checked into this particular Intercambio, we looked at the attendee register, and immediately noticed everyone there was Spanish. 98% of them wanted to learn English!!!! Us two, being the only fluent English speakers present – damn!
Seems as though we would be the free English tutors for the evening – and that thought unnerved me.
As soon as the people present heard our accents, all eyes were trained upon us! They turned eagerly, desperate to get the opportunity to talk to us about anything, so long as they could speak to us in English. It was once again an intimidating situation, but for very different reasons than the first Intercambio disaster. We were again centre of attention without even wanting to be! I then thought, thank God I have never been famous, I’d never have coped with all that attention!
I was a little freaked out to say the least; put on the spot and I almost felt like a cabaret act – like I should do a little dance or something! I felt myself squirm inwardly as we were paraded about the bar, and then introduced to about 10 strangers. We were expected then to get on with our tuition of these Spanish strangers! It was weird!
Consequently I could only speak in English for the first hour, and then only a little Spanish thereafter. I was on edge all night – I felt so nervous of all the attention and questioning. Though, they were nice people, it was still a full on experience and not one I am usually used to; speaking on demand like a pet! I wasn’t a happy bunny!
This way of learning is not for me, I cannot learn like this. I need to feel comfortable to speak to a person in a foreign language – I don’t know why. I struggle, I feel my mind goes blank. Plus, how often do we trade information, that is perhaps personal, with complete strangers? Not often. It is quite an unnatural setting.
A Spanish friend of mine actually described the Intercambios as a form of speed dating, and they could be. It is like repeating yourself, and making good impressions, being on your best behaviour, and hiding your true self to score points! I have never been part of a speed dating event, but I imagine people must feel the same – on show, on the spot and feel they are being assessed and judged even!
It is a weird environment for sure, and one I just feel I am not comfortable in, yet every week I still attend, like a glutton for punishment! As I have already stated though I have met some nice people, so this is a good thing, yet, I am not really fulfilling my main aim – to learn Spanish!
Yet, at least I am making friends. So, there is still hope to eventually be fluent in Spanish, one day!